The Health Co-Op – bundling self-pay services for health sharing ministry

Earlier this month I wrote about Connect2Docs, a company that has bundled telemedicine, health screening, bill negotiation, and a drug discount card into one package, which offers great value to self-pay patients, particularly the uninsured but also those with high-deductible health plans. I noted in that post that “…I expect to see [Connect2Docs] and other providers, companies, facilities, and organizations to continue to look for ways to build more comprehensive bundles that effectively address more of the issues, challenges, and opportunities of the self-pay patient…”

This weekend, a reader wrote in to let me know of The Health Co-Op, another bundled package that is offered to members of Samaritan Ministries, one of three health sharing ministries currently in operation. These ministries operate in some ways like insurance, but they are nonprofit, voluntary associations of individuals and families that agree to share one another’s medical bills. They are largely unregulated, which means they don’t have to offer certain services that some find objectionable or unnecessary and that are mandated for insurance policies under Obamacare, and are typically about half the cost of health insurance. 

The Health Co-Op offers a rich bundle of services that most any self-pay patient will find valuable. Some of the benefits described on The Health Co-Op web site include:

Physician Search: Under The Health Co-Op, members can keep their existing physicians. However, when you need a new physician, we can help you find one that fits your needs. Our team can do the search for you and provide a list from which you can make informed choices.

24/7/365 Consult A Doctor: Members are provided unlimited use of a 24/7/365 board certified and state licensed physician whom you can reach via phone or email. These doctors are able to assess your situation and, when appropriate prescribe medications.

Annual Wellness Labs: Receive an annual Comprehensive Metabolic Panel as part a blood work-up for a yearly wellness check to evaluate organ function and health and monitor known conditions.

Surgery Cost Saver: When your doctor tells you that you need surgery, the virtually unknown fact is that surgical costs and quality can vary greatly from facility to facility. Let our registered nurse do the legwork to obtain real-time cost, quality and availability, for up to five different facilities. This information helps you become an informed health care consumer.

Medical Bill Mediation: Our skilled staff, trained in negotiation, will negotiate the out-of-pocket balances you owe on your medical bills. Significant reductions are not uncommon, with average savings of between 55-70%.

They also offer a discount card that offers reduced prices for doctor visits, prescription drugs, dental and vision care, surgical centers, imaging and lab services, and other health-related goods and services. The card presumably works in a similar way to the drug discount cards I wrote about last week, which typically allow cardholders to pay prices similar to what insurance companies pay.

The Health Co-Op is an ‘add-on’ to membership in Samaritan Ministries. An individual member of Samaritan Ministries would normally pay $165 a month (for the rough equivalent of a $900 deductible), by joining The Health Co-Op as well they’d pay another $55 a month, bringing the total to $220. A two-parent family would normally give $370 a month, joining The Health Co-Op would add $73 to the monthly cost for a total of $443.

Combining membership in a health sharing ministry with a bundle of services that help to ‘fill in the gaps’ that many insurance companies normally provide is a great value for self-pay patients. Although The Health Co-Op is only available to members of Samaritan Ministries, it’s easy enough to see how a member of another ministry or someone who is relying primarily on critical illness or fixed-benefit insurance policies for coverage could without too much difficulty either add the bundle offered by Connect2Docs or build their own bundle of providers to replicate what The Health Co-Op offers.

The emergence of bundled services aimed at meeting the needs of self-pay patients is a big step forward, making it easier for the uninsured and those with high-deductible insurance to get the healthcare they need at an affordable price. I hope and expect to see more bundles in the coming months and years ahead!

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